Chinese investment in the Western hotel industry has been building steadily since 2011. Here’s a timeline that looks at how it started and how it has grown.
GLOBAL REPORT—Chinese capital investment has had a significant impact on the western hotel industry in 2016, with marquee moves like Anbang Insurance Groups’s pursuit of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and HNA Group’s recently closed acquisition of Carlson Hotels. But Chinese influence on the industry is not something that happened over night.
The path to Chinese involvement in hotels—and other businesses—worldwide is something that started with diplomatic missions in the early 1970s before growing to billions of dollars of outflowing capital. Here’s a look at some of the early highlights leading to China’s increasingly important role in the global hotel industry followed by some of the recent deals that have bolstered Chinese influence.
21 February 1972—U.S. President Richard Nixon visits China and meets Chinese leader Chairman Mao Zedong. The event is largely credited with beginning China’s emergence from decades of relative isolation.
Although China possesses a long, celebrated history, as far as the West was concerned it was a backwater through much of the 19th and 20th centuries. The Middle Kingdom was effectively cut off due to its governments’ isolationist and then Communist policies and efforts to repel threats of Western imperialism.
1978—Party Secretary Deng Xiaoping begins the process of economic reform that continues today. This will lead to the decentralization of state control, the creation in 1980 of Special Economic Zones open to foreign investment and the re-opening of the Shanghai Stock Exchange after 40 years.
1 January 1979—The U.S. and China formally recognize one another. From the U.S. perspective this means acknowledging the People’s Republic of China as the sole government of China.
April 1989—Relations between China and the West get considerably colder after world news is dominated by images of protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square that begin upon the death of Party Secretary General Hu Yaobang and last for more than two months. Violence against protestors draws the condemnation of western countries.
20 July 2009—Wen Jiabao, the premier of China between 2003 and 2013, announces China’s “going out” foreign investment strategy, stating in a speech to Chinese diplomats that the country “should hasten the implementation of our ‘going out’ strategy and combine the utilisation of foreign exchange reserves with the ‘going out’ of our enterprises.” The Financial Times says “China’s outbound nonfinancial direct investment rose to $40.7 billion (in 2008) from just $143 million in 2002.”
THE BUYING SPREE
June 2013—Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group purchases a development site in London slotted for a proposed £700 million, 160-room hotel and residential tower project, the first Wanda hotel outside of China. The asset, on the south bank of the River Thames, is to be part of the One Nine Elm redevelopment project.
November 2013—Chinese real estate development firm Sichuan Xinglida Group Enterprises Company buys the 487-room Torrance Marriott South Bay, Los Angeles, from U.S. real estate investment trust DiamondRock for $74 million. Sichuan Xinglida’s U.S. subsidiary XLD Group completed the deal.
March 2014—Chinese investor Jiangsu Pro buys the Hotel Valparaíso in Spanish resort island Palma de Mallorca for €48 million and says it intends to develop a chain of hotels in Spain.
June 2014—Commercial real estate advisory Cushman & Wakefield states, “China, the world’s second-largest economy, is now the world’s third-largest source of outbound direct investment, behind only the U.S. (in first place) and Japan. From 2006 to 2013, annual outbound investment flows grew from $21.2 billion to $107.8 billion,” an increase of more than 500%.
According to Cushman & Wakefield’s research for the years 2008 to June 2014, China’s outbound investment in hotels equalled 6% of Chinese outbound investment in all asset classes. For just the U.S., that number equalled 16.9%, while hotels drew 28.6% of investment in New York City. In Europe, the hotel asset class drew 13.6% of Chinese real estate investment.
June 2014—Kai Yuan Holdings pays €344.51 million for the luxury Paris Marriott Hotel Champs-Elysees, which includes a management agreement with Marriott International up to 2030 that will be automatically renewed for three successive periods of 10 fiscal years.
Dalian Wanda Group Corporation, meanwhile, bought the landmark Edificio España building in Spanish capital Madrid for €265 million from Banco Santander.
September 2014—Reignwood Group via its Reignwood Investments subsidiary buys Ten Trinity Square, which sits beside the Tower of London, for an undisclosed sum. The company announces a partnership with Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts to turn the property into a luxury 98-room hotel.
October 2014—Anbang Insurance Group buys the Waldorf Astoria New York for $2 billion, or approximately $1.3 million per key, from Hilton Worldwide Holdings, with the deal stipulating that Hilton retains management of the property for the next 100 years. Property consultancy Knight Frank later reports that the deal was the largest involving Chinese outbound capital that closed in 2015.
Commentators suggest that large deals such as this would continue as the global investor base expanded, with business advisory JLL saying “much of the offshore investment flow is coming from Chinese investors, which are forecast to spend as much as $5 billion (in 2015) on global hotel purchases.”
Bradley Burwell, VP of fellow consultancy firm CBRE Hotels, added “deregulation of capital repatriation has made it easier for investment into the U.S. … Previously, if you made an investment with Chinese capital of more than $100 million you had to have a government review. That threshold has been dramatically increased, and that is allowing more investors who want to get their capital out to do so.”
November 2014—Shanghai Jin Jiang International Hotels, The Thayer Group and Phoenix Global Investment acquire French hotel firm Louvre Hotels Group for approximately €1.2 billion, which gave the Chinese consortium control of the hotel brands Première Classe, Campanile, Kyriad, Tulip Inn, Golden Tulip and Royal Tulip.
December 2014—Sichuan Xinglida Group followed up its November 2013 activity with another deal with DiamondRock—the $160-million purchase of the 1,004-room Marriott LAX Airport Hotel.
February 2015—Fosun buys vacation resort firm Club Méditerranée for an estimated €939 million following a two-year battle to gain the brand. Fosun enacts a holding fund based in France called Gaillon Invest SAS to conduct the deal.
New York City’s Baccarat Hotel is sold a month before opening to Chinese company Sunshine Insurance Group for a rumored $230 million, or more than $2 million per key, making it the most highly valued hotel in the U.S. Starwood Capital Group sold the 114-room asset in Midtown Manhattan, which beat the previous record holder, the Plaza Hotel, also in New York City.
March 2015—Fosun buys 5% of travel conglomerate Thomas Cook for £91.8 million. Three months later, the two entities announce a 51% (Fosun)-49% (Thomas Cook) partnership to develop domestic, inbound and outbound tourism activities for the Chinese market under Thomas Cook brands.
June 2015—Chinese stocks begin suffering from serious falls on 12 June, in what was the first of several wobbles throughout 2015 and early 2016 that led to panic in markets across the world. According to Bloomberg, by 9 July 2015, approximately $3.5 trillion was wiped off the value of shares on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges.
On 27 June, China’s central bank, People’s Bank of China, stepped in to stem the tide by cutting its benchmark interest rate and deposit rates, both by 25 basis points, pushing the one-year deposit rate to the lowest level on record.
HNA Group opens its wallet again, this time for a 15% stake in Red Lion Hotels Corporation from U.S. investment fund Columbia Pacific Advisors.
August 2015—On 10 August, HK CTS Metropark Hotels purchases U.K. hotel management company Kew Green Hotels for £400 million, giving it 44 U.K. hotels and 5,179 rooms.
Meanwhile, Chinese stock markets go from bad to worse, with values plummeting by 8.5%, the largest fall in nine years after China on two separate occasions, 11 and 12 August, devalued its currency, the yuan renminbi. Dubbed “Black Monday,” 24 August marks a drastic selloff in China that shakes global markets.
Kit Juckes, a macro strategist at French bank Société Générale S.A., comments that “markets are afraid of further economic weakness in China, further pain in global commodity markets and uncertain about (U.S. Federal Reserve) and (People’s Bank of China)—what they will do and what the impact will be. The divergence between global commodity prices and equities is not a new theme, but the danger now is that they begin to re-correlate—as they did when the dotcom bubble burst in 2000 and what had previously been an emerging market crisis became a U.S. recession.”
Some commentators downplayed the alarming numbers, stating that fewer than 7% of Chinese nationals own stocks. Indeed, the Chinese hotel industry seemed not to overly worry, with Hotel News Now’s parent company STR reporting that for August, Beijing posted an increase on occupancy of 2.8% to 78%, which was the highest for any August in the Chinese capital since 2001; an increase in average daily rate of 6.5% to 583.14 yuan, and a rise in revenue per available room of 9.5% to 454.67 yuan.
Chinese companies continue their international shopping spree, because they know better than anyone about the newfound tastes of the dramatically increasing pool of Chinese travelers, who in 2015 took 120 million outbound trips and spent $207.5 billion on outbound travel in 2015. The average amount spent per trip for outbound leisure travelers in 2015 was 17,490 yuan.
December 2015—The temporary disappearance on 11 December of Fosun’s chairman Guo Guangchang causes alarm, with some Chinese investment-watchers believing his absence might have something to do with China’s government’s anti-corruption crackdown shifting to private companies. Commentators speculate that a new stance from the Chinese government might affect Chinese companies’ appetite for overseas deals.
Guo reappears on 14 December at Fosun’s annual general meeting having been, according to Business Insider U.K. citing a Fosun executive, “helping the police with an investigation that mostly concerned his ‘personal affairs.’”
January 2016—The Shanghai Stock Exchange hits more difficulties, causing ripple effects around the globe. By the time the markets in China close, approximately 7% had been wiped off the value of capital. The market issues result in a halt in trading of more than $7 trillion of equities, futures and options.
According to Bloomberg, commentators asked what it meant to the world economy that “Chinese policy makers … are trying to prevent financial-market volatility from weighing on (a Chinese) economy set to grow at its weakest annual pace since 1990.”
February 2016— Beijing-based Cindat Capital Management buys a 70% stake in seven Manhattan hotels, which includes assets that operate under Holiday Inn, Hampton Inn and Candlewood Suites brands, from Hersha Hospitality Trust for $571.4 million.
Dalian Wanda puts the Edificio España building in Madrid back on the market less than two years after buying it, having apparently come up against too much city hall red tape. The property is listed for the exact U.S. dollar sum Dalian Wanda bought it for.
Rhodium Group and Mercator Institute for China Studies write that “outward foreign direct investment flows hit $130 billion to $140 billion in 2015, up from $123 billion in 2014. China’s global outward foreign direct investment stock now exceeds $1 trillion, triple the amount compared to just five years ago. This impressive growth has turned China from a small player to one of the world’s largest exporters of foreign direct investment, accounting for almost 10% of global outward foreign direct investment flows.”
The two analytical research organizations continue: “Europe has emerged as a main destination for Chinese outward foreign direct investment, in line with a broader shift of Chinese investment from developing and emerging to high-income economies. In 2015, Chinese companies invested €20 billion in the European Union, a 44% jump compared to 2014’s €14 billion. … In the past five years, annual Chinese foreign direct investment in the EU averaged more than €10 billion, compared to around €1 billion annually in the previous five years.”
Commentators suggest that Chinese political efforts to slow down capital flight, reduce bad debt and better structure adjustment and volatility are touted as possible brake mechanisms to the still-eager outflow of Chinese outbound investment.
March 2016—Anbang Insurance re-emerges on 13 March and agrees to buy U.S. real estate investment trust Strategic Hotels & Resorts—which owns 16 luxury properties across several brands—from Blackstone Group for $6.5 billion. The news comes a little more than six months after Blackstone bought all Strategic's outstanding shares and membership units.
On the next day, 14 March, with the world still in awe of Marriott International’s proposed $12.2-billion acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Anbang Insurance decides as part of a Chinese consortium to make a counteroffer for Starwood of $76 per share in cash. This trumps Marriott’s deal, which valued each share at $72.08.
C. Patrick Scholes, managing director of gaming and lodging and leisure equity research at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, tells HNN that Anbang “could increase its offer to $86 or even $90 per share, which could make it much more tempting for Starwood shareholders.”
Starwood Hotels & Resorts’ shareholders say in a press release the Anbang bid constitutes a “superior bid,” a necessary step in fully accepting Chinese ownership and putting the ball firmly back into Marriott’s court.
On 21 March, Chinese capital is sidelined as Marriott bounces back with a deal valuing Starwood’s shares at $79.53. The bidding war continues to heat up, as Anbang returns to the fray with a 26 March offer of $82.75 per share.
April 2016—The Anbang-Marriott, Chinese-American capital tussle ends on 1 April when Anbang suddenly pulls out of the race. Thomas B. Mangas, Starwood’s CEO, says Anbang “withdrew its offer ‘amicably’ due to ‘market considerations.’” One rumor for their final reluctance, insiders mull, is “that Anbang would have been on the hook for the entire $14-billion offer even if the deal was ultimately blocked by Chinese insurance regulators.”
The New York Times says the failed Anbang-Starwood deal might be connected with Chinese government efforts to stop the huge flow of capital out of China and thus increase its foreign exchange reserves.
On 28 April, HNA Group reaches a deal for an undisclosed sum to buy U.S. hotel firm Carlson Hospitality Group, which has been family owned since it was founded in 1938. The deal includes Carlson’s 51.3% stake in The Rezidor Hotel Group, which under Swedish law means HNA officials must decide whether they are willing to launch a public tender offer for the remaining 48.7% ownership stake or if they want to sell down their ownership interest to below 30%. HNA says on a website for the new company that the combined venture will be “one of the 50 largest companies in the world by 2030.” (Note: The deal officially closes in December 2016.)
Wes Golladay, VP and equity research analyst at RBC Capital Markets, says the HNA-Carlson deal shows that Chinese capital is still active, following commentary that the party was over with the abrupt ending of Anbang’s pursuit of Starwood.
Philippe Doizelet, managing director of the Paris office of business consultancy Horwath HTL, tells HNN that “there are Chinese equity funds behind many of these expanding Chinese hotel companies. As for HNA, it is a very aggressive investor and interested in joining all the spaces in the booking journey. They are very serious players.”
May 2016—Shanghai Jin Jiang International Hotels, with partners The Thayer Group and Phoenix Global Investment, up their stake in AccorHotels to 11.7%. Rumors swirl Jin Jiang will up its ownership to close to 20%, with AccorHotels’ CEO Sébastien Bazin telling HNN that increased Chinese ownership in the French hotel company does not worry him but would likely constitute a seat on its board.
The World Tourism Organization reports Chinese outbound travelers in 2015 grew year over year by 10% to 128 million, the 12th year in a row that number had seen a percentage increase in the double digits. The WTO also stated that spending by Chinese travelers outside of China grew by 25% to $292 billion, higher than that of the U.S. ($120 billion), Germany ($76 billion) and the U.K. ($63 billion).
June 2016—Rumors swirl that AccorHotels executives now are courting China’s HNA Group, the recent buyers of Carlson Hospitality Group, to invest in the French chain to offset the increasing ownership stake in AccorHotels from fellow Chinese hotel company Jin Jiang. HNA issues a statement denying the rumors.
Activist shareholders at Spain’s NH Hotels remove four HNA-appointed board members from the NH board. The shareholders’ concern is that with HNA also owning 28.5% of NH, its largest owner, there inevitably will be a conflict of interest. Another casualty of this move was NH’s CEO Federico González Tejera.
July 2016—The fifth edition of Hotel.com’s “Chinese International Travel Monitor” states that 92% of Chinese travelers “plan to increase or maintain spending, and one-third of them plan to spend more on travel in the coming year.”
This comes about despite some economic uncertainty and that only “5% of the nearly 1.4 billion Chinese citizens (are) currently holding passports.” The report said that some 120 million Chinese traveled overseas in 2015, up from 117 million in 2014, which was the first year that crossed the 100 million mark.
August 2016—China’s Anbang Insurance Group is linked to a possible £7-billion bid for InterContinental Hotels Group.
Newspaper Sunday Times reports that “Anbang is said to be in the early stages of considering an offer for IHG,” but Anbang representative Chris Winans refutes the claim. The “deal” did value IHG’s market capitalization at more than its London Stock Exchange valuation of £6.4 billion.
Hong Kong-based Junson Capital buys the 378-room Doubletree by Hilton Hotel London Docklands Riverside from private equity group HIG’s affiliate Bayside Capital for approximately £80 million. The deal is believed to be, according to Marc Finney, head of hotels and resorts consulting at business consultancy Colliers International, the first major hotel transaction by an overseas buyer in London since U.K. voters voted to leave the European Union on 23 June 2016.
October 2016—HNA spends $6.5 billion, or $26.25 per share, to acquire 25% of Hilton Worldwide Holdings from seller Blackstone. The agreement allows HNA to appoint two directors, one from HNA, the other independent, to Hilton’s board.
Analysts speaking to HNN said the deal could push other major brand companies to explore their own alliance opportunities to penetrate into markets where they don’t have as strong a presence. David Loeb, senior research analyst and managing director for Robert W. Baird & Company, said there were limitations to what HNA Group could do with its 25% interest in Hilton.
“It’s not a control stake, just a large stake with board seats and representations. … The Chinese company can never vote more than 15% of its shares,” Loeb said.
December 2016—Hong Kong-based Chow Tai Fook Enterprises announces a deal to buy the beleaguered Baha Mar Resort in Nassau, Bahamas. The company announces it expects the protracted development cycle for the megaresort will soon wrap up with a projected opening of April 2017.